RBR students look on as emergency personnel perform an extrication of a ‘victim’ trapped in a vehicle. Below, Joy Jones displays a portrait of her son Steven as she speaks to students about his death at the hands of his drunk best friend. (Photos by Stacie Fanelli. Click to enlarge)


Little Silver policeĀ  were the first on the scene Friday morning at Red Bank Regional, where three cars lay smashed on the pavement. Sirens blaring, at least a dozen more emergency vehicles lined up in front of the school minutes later.

No one was hurt. In fact, the entire senior class stood around the “crash” site, struggling to hold back laughter when a drunken driver stumbled dramatically out of the first vehicle.

RBR administrative assistant Donna Carotenuto is ‘rescued’ by firefighters. (Click to enlarge)One of the cars, tipped halfway over, was held in place by concealed stilts, and all of them had been donated by Red Bank Recycling to a good cause: Project Prom, a mock-crash put on by the school for the past eight years to show students firsthand the effects of driving drunk, especially in the festive season of proms and graduations, when students most often show lapses in judgment. RBR’s prom will be held June 1.

Two of the cars became convertibles as firefighters took their roofs off using the Jaws of Life. Inside were student and faculty volunteers waiting to be extricated.

“They had to like, fondle you to put everything on, and they kept poking me,” student volunteer Anthony Vogel later said about his rescue.

A friend hugged Vogel after he emerged from an ambulance. Facetious shrieks of “You’re alive!” followed.

Volunteer victim Terrence Scanlon added, “I could still feel glass on my back and in my shoes.”

Officer Pete Gibson, who coordinated the day’s events and works full-time as the school’s resource officer, reminded the students that these were only the minor inconveniences compared with what could result from getting into a car with a drunk driver.

This wascthe first time students have participated in the role-playing, and seeing her classmates in a believably dire situation especially hit home for senior Viktoria O’Dell.

“It put it in a movie-like way, everything they’ve been talking about,” she said. “It was absolutely terrifying when they brought out the hearse.”

Isabelle Von Arx agreed that the dramatization brought on serious reflection.

“It’s going to happen to someone, whether it’s you or not,” she said.

Joy Jones of MADD, who has worked with the program at RBR for the past five years, brought the lesson to life with a presentation afterward in the auditorium about the events that led to her son’s death 23 years ago.

“I used to think drunk driving was, oh, I don’t know, maybe a monster. But that’s not who killed Steve,” Jones said about her son’s best friend, the drunk driver of the car her son was thrown from. “He loved Steve, but he killed him. Steve is just as dead today as he would be if it were a monster.”

She recounted in detail the tragedy of the car crash and her thoughts on the way to the hospital after receiving the worst call of her life: “Stuff like this doesn’t happen to people like us.”

Though some students said after the presentation that they were disappointed the school was making prom into a gloomy affair, Jones said she wasn’t there to ruin the fun.

“I want you to have a wonderful night, but please leave alcohol out of it,” she said.

Eric Pereira, a 21-year-old college student from Jackson recently convicted of 2nd degree vehicular homicide, felt the same way. He spoke about his regrets and the consequences of his actions.

“I went from having a fun night to realizing I’m responsible for killing another person, and I’m going to jail for a long time,” he said. “You should be carefree while you’re young, and live it up…what I’m asking you to do is be safe.”

Sergeant Daniel Lloyd of Shrewsbury said that although he doesn’t know of any exact statistics since the program began, “fatalities are not what they were.”

Volunteers came from the Shrewsbury and Little Silver fire departments and the Red Bank and Little Silver police departments.

As they pushed the wreckage to the side of the parking lot, one police officer banged on one of the car’s hoods and peeked under the tires. Smiling, he yelled, “Anyone else under there?”